Of Darkness....(Deaf - 1991)
Their primitive death metal debut with a muddy production featuring tracks from their previous demos and EPs re-recorded for this LP. This one varies in tempo from mostly chugging and purely rhythmic brutal death metal a la Suffocation or Massacre (some guitar solos as well made me think of Massacre), to quite a lot of Napalm-Death-esque primitive deathgrind pounding, to slower doom or thrash hybrid arrangements that bring to mind Celtic Frost. The vocals are good raspy growls with power despite the young age of the band and vocalist, but the flaw here is the uninspired unoriginality as well as the plodding sound and monotonous, muddy-sounding vocals in most of the tracks that desperately needed something more than just tempo changes in its chugging rhythms. Some compositional development and buildup perhaps, or better and more memorable guitar solos, or more precise and technical prowess with sharp edges, or more harmonized riffs. The slow doomy bits also frequently break up the pure death metal energy. Although I like brutal death metal when its done well, this just seems to do its fairly-competent, primitive, grinding, chugging thing, and fails to grab me for the most part. Mediocre.
Beyond Sanctorum(Active - 1992)
Although this one starts with some blasting deathgrind from the debut, for the most part this is a blend of lots of doomdeath, chugging downtuned midtempo death-riffing reminiscent of Entombed, and distorted harmonized death metal a la Dismember. There are also very short appearances of keyboards, female vocals and a choir - a sign of things to come. This is an improvement over the debut but as with that release, the many transitions disrupt the flow and don't allow any momentum or cohesion. It just seems to shift from one arrangement to another but doesn't develop and build which is a pity because many of the instrumental arrangements and riffs are quite superb. This is frustrating and compelled me to listen to the album several times to make sure it wouldn't grow on me, but besides a couple of better tracks like 1, 3 and 4, it never improved. Nowhere is this more evident than on the eleven-minute "The Way": It starts with this great arrangement and sound, then another good arrangement, and then another one, and then another one. And every time it shifts every half a minute or so, your brain restarts as if it were a new song. Good sound and instrumental arrangements, bad composition.
Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas(Pavement - 1993)
One of those transition releases that merges an outgoing style with a new style for the band, in this case the death metal of earlier Therion and the gothic-esoteric-melodic-heavy metal that will soon arrive. Except this is experimental, rich, and manages to combine the best of both worlds. Not that this has the bombastic choir or neo-classical leanings of Theli, but tracks can transition from chugging death metal with gurgling vocals, to middle-eastern keyboards, melodic heavy metal with NWOBHM guitars and throaty yells, Rotting Christ-esque dark and heavy metal, electronic gothic ambience with distorted vocals, dark gothic metal with death growls, and back again, with some surprises in the middle. Despite this salad, the compositions work and grow on you after a few listens, until you realize that this is a one-of-a-kind and very enjoyable release that will stay with you for years to come. Included are various atmospheric and bizarre but interesting instrumental interludes as well. Christofer Johnsson is now the only remaining member from the original lineup, he took the opportunity to experiment, and it paid off. Definitely recommended to adventurous listeners or people that want to hear a new form of death metal.
Lepaca Kliffoth(Nuclear Blast - 1995)
Somewhat in the vein of Symphony Masses with plenty of variety and melody but almost no death metal. The fascinating experimental arrangements of Symphony are also mostly gone, replaced with more polished dark tunes and gothic heavy/thrash metal. This is also where Therion established their signature sound, although it is hard to make such claim when confronted with this sheer variety. There is chugging melodic heavy metal with barking vocals and middle-eastern interludes, gothic Paradise-Lost-esque heaviness with female operatic vocals, rawer sounding Theli-prototypes of dark keyboards chugging melodic guitars and barking vocals, some early Anathema-style doom, some Entombed-esque chugging deathrock, and so on. However, although many of the compositions are pretty good, the biggest flaw here is the vocals. Some are the barks or throaty yelling of Theli, but the rest consist of Peewee Herman trying to mimic Cookie Monster, as if the vocalist found it difficult to leave the death metal vocals of previous releases completely and opted for a bastardized compromise. The operatic vocals on Beauty in Black are also badly done, sometimes even off tune. Altogether, not as good as either Theli nor Symphony Masses, but boasting several pretty-good tracks and worth a look only if you need more Therion.
Theli(Nuclear Blast - 1996)
This unforgettable release exploded on the scene, and made quite a noise both reputation-wise as well as musically. Imagine the more bombastic elements of the choir-opera Carmina Burana backed by chugging guitars and Middle-Eastern tunes on keyboards, as well as barking and clean heavy metal vocals. The first song explodes with so much bombast and simplistic structure, it threatens to turn off some listeners, but they would be missing out on much more interesting compositions to come, including a couple of longer progressive tracks and some atmospheric slow pieces. Many people use the word 'symphonic' to describe Therion, but I hate the abuse of that word, since symphonic is supposed to describe a certain type of compositional structure, not just a 'song that sounds orchestral' or a song that makes use of classical instruments. But there is no denying the classical and grandly orchestral arrangements here, all in dark, gothic and Middle-Eastern tones backed by the German Choir and the Barmbek Symphony Orchestra as well as many keyboards. The off-tune female vocals from Lepaca unfortunately make an appearance in 'Siren of the Woods', but the rest of the vocals in all their variety are superb. There are no bad tracks although they vary in power, and you would have to be in the mood for this bombastic, driving, rhythmic, epic music, but this definitely comes highly recommended.
A'arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming(Nuclear Blast - 1997)
This is a sort of a 10 year anniversary release with a smorgasboard of tracks. First two mediocre tracks are original songs, but much lighter than anything on Theli. The first sounds like gothic rock spliced with classic heavy metal, the second is more Swano-esque melodic rock spliced with heavy metal which is no surprise since Swano is featured as a guest vocalist. Then we have 4 covers and one superb instrumental remake of Symphony Of The Dead. The covers are: Scorpions - Fly to the Rainbow (good instrumental/atmospheric section, first part boring), Iron Maiden - Children of the Damned (drags too much, bad vocals), Running Wild - Under Jolly Roger (crude and doesn't do much but they cover it energetically), and Judas Priest - Here Comes the Tears (slow stuff - didn't do much for me). Then the last 11 tracks are the classical soundtrack they wrote for an obscure movie called "The Golden Embrace" preceded by remade versions of these songs with bass and drums added. The remade tracks are pretty good gothic melodic instrumentals, with a driving rhythm and choir vocals that are all reminiscent of Theli except without most of the bombast. The original tracks are somewhat interesting as well using keyboards, classical instruments, choirs and a mixed eastern-western sound for an atmospheric gothic sound. All in all, some interesting tracks, but way too schizophrenic to listen through as a whole.